This wedding story is for anyone getting married in this season of weddings. It begins 25 years ago. Two teenagers, Kirsten Opdyke and Tim O’Connell, were at a high-school basketball game. They didn’t know each other, but she’d noticed him in the halls of their New Hampshire high school. Tim, from Vermont, was the new kid in Peterborough. He was tall, good-looking, a hockey player. Kirsten was the pretty girl from a little town a few miles away, a soccer player. Tim was sitting on the bleachers when Kirsten came into the gym. Tim took one look and said to himself, She’s the one. Then Kirsten came over to him, put her hand on his knee, and said, “Who are you?”
“He just sort of stammered,” she remembers today. “He didn’t know what to say.”
“I was just sitting there and this girl puts her hand on my knee,” Tim recalls. “She had this amazing energy. Then she walked off. I don’t even remember the basketball game. I was 17, trying to be cool. But all I thought was, Who is that?“
For the next few weeks Kirsten found a way to walk by Tim’s locker or be nearby while he was on his way to a class. “I thought, He’s the one. I just knew it.”
Their first kiss was at a party, November 25, 1984, a date that Kirsten recalls years later without hesitation. “From that moment on we were inseparable,” she says. Tim lived on an old farmstead. He and Kirsten went three-wheeling, horseback riding, swimming in the lake; they cooked out. Small-town kids talking about a future. “We made a 10-year plan,” Kirsten says. “Graduate high school, college, get married, have four kids.”
Kirsten loved Tim, but after high school he wanted to stick around and work. He wasn’t the studious type back then, and Kirsten wanted to see “new things.” She went off to the University of Kentucky. “We sat in the car just crying our heads off,” she recalls. They phoned nearly every day; then summer came and they worked in town, and after work there was the lake and the warm country nights.
The next summer they found jobs on Cape Cod and shared a cabin with a friend. And then, of course, our story takes a turn, because they were, after all, still so young. It had been three years since high school, and the disappointments crept in. By Kirsten’s senior year, they were just about done. “We were doing this,” she says, as she makes a motion with her hands, one going east, the other west.
After graduating, Tim studied architecture in Boston but spent a lot of time partying. “I was immature,” he says. “There weren’t many parties I missed.” Kirsten had moved to Connecticut as a sales manager for People magazine, her life in a totally different place from Tim’s. One day in 1994, 10 years after they’d met, “Tim called me up,” she says. “He wanted to see how I was doing. We agreed to meet in Boston. I thought, This is it. I knew what I was going to say.
“That whole night sitting across from him, I just wanted to say, ‘I love you, I always have, I always will.’ But I kept getting weird vibes from him. I knew he must be seeing someone else. So I never said it. I bawled my eyes out all the way home. I knew we were meant to be together. I knew that before I died I would see him again.”
Tim remembers that night, too. “I was seeing somebody else, but Kirsten didn’t know,” he says. “I felt sad. I was just in a different place.” So as life shifted around them, they found other mates; Kirsten married in her hometown church in 1995. “On my wedding day I stood in front of the mirror,” she says. “I clenched my hands and squeezed my eyes together. I hoped God would hear me. ‘Please,’ I prayed, ‘have Tim show up.’ He never did.” Tim learned of the wedding, and a year later he married, too: “I thought, How’d we let this happen? We always had this plan that one day we’d be together, and now this.“
Kirsten lived in Granby, Connecticut, keeping a secret box stuffed with every photo, every note, every letter from Tim hidden in her attic–not knowing that Tim had a box, too, filled with her pictures and letters, not knowing that he knew where she was living or that for years every time he drove through Connecticut he hoped somehow he’d see her walking by. She says simply of those years, “Not a day went by that I didn’t think about Tim and have regret. To live with regret is heavy. It’s hard.”
By 2003 Kirsten and her husband, John, had a son and a baby daughter. Despite living in what she calls “the perfect house in a wonderful neighborhood,” the marriage had been strained for some time. One evening while washing dishes, her husband told Kirsten that he was leaving. He was gone in the morning.
Kirsten moved back to New Hampshire with her children. She signed onto a Web site that connects former classmates, writing, “My husband left me for a blonde. Now living in Dublin.” A “message in a bottle” for Tim, she says. But the years passed, and the bottle, it seemed, was never found.
Tim and his wife also had a daughter, and their marriage was also on the rocks. “We were both very unhappy,” he remembers. In 2007, they separated and started on the path to divorce.
On a January evening in 2008, Kirsten opened her e-mail and found this message: “What’s up?” It was Tim. She didn’t know that those two words had taken him an entire day to write. “I sat down at the office,” Tim says. “I wrote her a long e-mail. I deleted it. I spent the whole day writing e-mails and deleting them. I did no work. Finally it was 5 p.m. I said, I have to send something. I typed ‘What’s up?’ I pressed send.”
Kirsten took a breath and typed back, “I’m good. You?” Tim told her about his family, making e-mail small talk, as he gingerly felt his way along a path of which he was unsure. “I sat there,” Kirsten remembers. “I said to myself, I’ve had this huge monkey on my back. I have a chance to tell him what I should have told him in Boston.
“I said, ‘I think you should sit down. I have something I want to tell you. Remember that time we met in Boston for dinner? I went to tell you something and I chickened out. I wanted to say, “You are the one. I’ve never stopped loving you.”‘ I touched the send key, and I felt this huge weight come off me. I kept waiting for a reply. Kept waiting. Kept waiting.” Kirsten didn’t know that Tim was crying. Finally he typed again, and the words flew back to Kirsten: “I love you, too.”
On a November day in 2008, Tim drove Kirsten back to their high school. “Twenty-five years ago today,” he said, “I saw you walk into the gym and knew you were the one. I’m sorry this is 15 years too late. But will you marry me?”
They set the date, December 20. A simple affair: parents, siblings, a few friends, the small church on the hill.
You may know what happens next. A week before the wedding, a great ice storm crippled the region. The church had no power; the inn where the guests were to stay had no power. Kirsten’s mother urged the couple to come up with Plan B. “There is no Plan B,” Tim replied. “I’ve waited 25 years to marry you in that church–there is no Plan B.”
Just in time, power was restored to the inn. But that would have been too easy. So on the day of the wedding, a storm roared in, with a foot of snow, making the roads treacherous. But only Tim’s dad, stranded at the airport in Chicago, couldn’t make it to the church.
It was 17 degrees inside. Candles provided the only light. The guests stayed in their cars, motors running, until the last arrivals. Everyone huddled in the first pews. There was nobody on the roads except power crews. It was so still. So quiet.
The Reverend Michael Scott was bundled into an overcoat and scarf. “This was the first time,” he recalled later, “[that] I’d spoken the words, ‘We are gathered here in the sight of God …’ and seen my breath floating out in an icy cloud toward the bride and groom.”
He’d written many words for the occasion, but in the cold, dark church he uttered only a few. “The indestructibility of this wedding ceremony in the face of almost unimaginable adversity suggests that the same might be true of the marriage,” he said. “Make it so.”
So give this story to anyone you know who’s planning a wedding. And if the arrangements are keeping them awake, tell them about Kirsten and Tim. They want everyone to know that months later, after the wedding where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, the only thing that really had to be right was. They’d found each other again. When they tell their story, she blushes, he blushes, and now and then they laugh like two kids.